Idealism or Immaturity?

One thing that our study of the Bible reveals to us is that–I know this will sound shocking–God is not an idealist. How can I say that?

First of all, God does not have to imagine perfection. He knows what it is, and precisely how far short even our best efforts fall. As our examination of God’s dealings with humans in the Bible demonstrates, when it comes to human behavior, God is not “all-or-nothing.”

Seeing what we now consider the deplorable condition of women in the days of Moses, God did not demand equal rights and equal status for women immediately; rather, he commanded an improvement that would make a difference for the better.

In the same way, God did not demand that Israel go from unlimited retribution to forgiving 70 times 7. Instead he limited retribution to “an eye for an eye,” as opposed to  being avenged 77 times (See Gen 4:24).

God’s actions in the Bible contrast strongly with many who claim to represent His views today. For them, it is indeed all or nothing. I regularly receive a newsletter from an explicitly Christian periodical that continually instructs me as to what God wants me to do concerning certain political issues (and no, it’s not “Focus on the Family”). They’re continually telling me that I live in a selfish, unjust society. Apparently they think that’s news. It seems to me that’s just the condition of sinful human beings.

Seeing human society as imperfect, they demand it become perfect, immediately. They claim to represent God when chanting “What do we want?” “Social Justice!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!”

That’s supposed to be an expression moral courage. But it sounds more to me like a tantrum. I have seen many a 5-year-old demanding something they thought would improve their world. They always want it NOW! We don’t consider that idealism, but immaturity.

As it happens, nearly 20 years ago I was instrumental in changing what I viewed as an unjust law in my state of Iowa, that effectively prevented families from teaching their children at home. For years, people had been demanding that the law be changed NOW! And those lobbying the legislature demanded total and complete freedom, with no accountability whatsoever to government. I sympathized with the goal, but found the methods objectionable–even counterproductive.

A number of us went to work in a much different way, working at the grassroots, informing people, helping them understand how their legislators thought and acted. At the same time, I lobbied the legislators, introducing them to cordial — not shouting– constituents who wanted to homeschool. It took time and effort, almost none of which gave the immediate feeling of moral superiority of a demonstration, and received minimal media attention.

And the absolutists–who wanted absolute perfection, NOW!–opposed our efforts all the way. Did we achieve perfection? Of course not. That’s not available in this world. But it’s interesting. The very people who asked the Governor to veto our bill 20 years ago want to take credit for it now!

I like to think what we did more closely resembles God’s approach. We didn’t insist on perfection, NOW, from a group of imperfect people, the legislature. We did what we could to get the most improvement in conditions. Instead of demanding perfect justice, we did our best to minimize injustice. No one today denies that we made things better for families; and we never claimed we achieved perfection.

There is a tendency today to contrast whatever exists, or whatever happens,as a result of decisions, with some ‘ideal.’ In some quarters this is hailed as ‘idealism,’ and to be encouraged. But the Bible reveals a record of continual, gradual improvement in human conditions.

Yes, at the 2nd Coming, God will erase all injustice, and bring in a New and Perfect Earth and Society. But that is His work, not ours. Until then, while we strive for continual improvement, we should not delude ourselves that we can, by our efforts, bring anything like heaven on earth. That is just another form of legalism, of self-righteousness. We need to remember that, absent the merits of Christ, our righteousness is as filthy rags. Until He comes, this will remain true individually–and as a society.


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